Royal Train: A one-way ticket to Altrincham, please. That will be £30,802, thank you Sir

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The Independent Online

The Royal Family's travel arrangements have come under fresh attack from MPs after it was revealed that Prince Charles, rather than the Queen herself, is the most frequent user of the royal train, a single journey on which can cost more than £40,000.

The Royal Family's travel arrangements have come under fresh attack from MPs after it was revealed that Prince Charles, rather than the Queen herself, is the most frequent user of the royal train, a single journey on which can cost more than £40,000.

This confounds the Queen's argument that the train should continue to run as the best mode of transport in her advancing years - the claim which saved the rarely used train from the scrapyard.

The revelation follows the row caused by a leaked National Audit Office report on Prince Andrew, showing he spent £325,000 over two years hiring helicopters to play golf and for short journeys on official business.

Plans to axe the train were thwarted two years ago when the Queen, who is 78, argued that as she and the Duke of Edinburgh, 83, are elderly it was the most efficient way for them to travel the country.

She successfully persuaded Parliament's powerful financial watchdogs, the Public Accounts Committee, that the railway took them to the centre of towns in time for early-morning functions and enabled them to stay overnight in railway sidings, saving the considerable expense of hiring a hotel for their staff and security personnel.

But the revelation that the main user of the train is not the Queen at all, but Prince Charles, has led to calls for another review. Inquiries by The Independent on Sunday reveal that in the financial year 2003-04 the train - the use of which is restricted to the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales - was used only 18 times at a total cost of £782,000.

Eleven of those journeys - all one-way to official engagements - were made by Prince Charles. His journey from Aberdeen to Altrincham cost £30,802; travelling from Edinburgh to Cornwall cost £40,605; Euston station in London to Sheffield cost £15,863; and Euston to Glasgow, £20,733.

The Royal Family, who have cut travel costs from a high of £17.3m in 1997-98 to under £5m, say they use scheduled transport wherever possible. A single, first-class overnight sleeper ticket from London to Glasgow currently costs £130.

On Thursday the Queen reportedly took a commuter train - the 10am fast service from King's Lynn, near Sandringham - to the Holocaust memorial service in London. She said that if other passengers were forced to stand they could share her carriage.

Ian Davidson, the MP for Glasgow Pollock and a member of the Public Accounts Committee which reprieved the train, said: "The Public Accounts Committee did understand the need for the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to use the Royal Train on occasions because of age and infirmity.

"But no one imagined that the major user would be Prince Charles - particularly when he uses it when much cheaper commercial alternatives are available. We have been critical of the use of the commercial hiring of helicopters when these were not justified - but it would appear that they are still cheaper than using the Royal Train."

Mr Davidson, who triggered the investigation into Prince Andrew's helicopter use, added: "These further examples of extravagant expenditure show that the Public Accounts Committee ought to re-examine the use and need of the Royal Train when commercial alternatives are available at much lower costs."

His colleague on the committee, Alan Williams, the MP for Swansea West, said: "They can't have it all ways. It does seem curious that somebody who could easily jump in a helicopter decides for some reason that he has to travel overnight in the Royal Train. It does seem to conflict rather markedly with what they were saying."

The Royal Train, which came into being under Queen Victoria in 1842, has often been criticised as an expensive anachronism.

The current train, made up of eight purpose-built saloons and run by English, Welsh and Scottish Railways, came into service in 1977. Far from luxurious, its interior is more like that of a cramped caravan than a luxury hotel. It can only travel at night because its slow speed of 60mph would otherwise disrupt scheduled daytime services.

A spokesman for Prince Charles said: "The Prince of Wales uses the train more because he takes more 'multiaway day trips' in the country. So he will, for example, go to Birmingham for the whole day and carry out three or four engagements.

"Instead of expensive accommodation he can start in the city. Last week he used it in Cumbria and was able to have two consecutive away days, attending three events, and was able to spend the evening on the train without having to go home, so maximising his time."

The spokesman added that the train was more reliable than helicopters.

A spokeswoman for the Queen added: "The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh still use the Royal Train.

"It enables them to travel overnight and have a relatively early start the next day, minimising the option of having to stay in a hotel with all the security concerns and cost that entails. It is expensive, and used only when fully justified."

FARE ENOUGH?

By Steve Bloomfield

Edinburgh to Cornwall

Prince Charles's journey: £40,605; standard open return: £249; first-class return: £290

Aberdeen to Altrincham

Prince Charles's journey: £30,802; standard open return: £134; first-class return: £299

Aberdeen to Pontefract to Cleethorpes

Prince Charles's journey: £30,637; standard open return: £127.50; first-class return: £282

Edinburgh to Leyland

Prince Charles's journey: £22,055; standard open return: £87; first-class return: £185

Kemble to Berwick-upon-Tweed

Prince Charles's journey: £21,192; standard open return: £160; first-class return: £229

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